Wimbledon Day 8 | Konta makes history
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JO Konta ‘s Wimbledon odyssey continued and she revealed her secret: “I stuck to my true self”. The sixth seed has ensured she became the first British woman to reach the semi-finals since Virginia Wade in 39 years.
I was very clear on what I was trying to achieve out there. Regardless of whether it was going my way or not. I felt really stuck to my true self.Jo Konta
She also raised hope and expectations of becoming the first home winner since the New York-based Lady of Kent wrested the title in 1977.
With Wade in the Centre Court crowd, Konta went for it and finally ground the leading seed Simon Halep into submission 6-7 7-6 6-4 over 2hr.38min of high quality, hard-hitting tennis.
And it earned her a meeting with multi-champion Venus Williams.
It also gained revenge for her defeat by the second seed in a controversial Fed Cup loss for Team GB in Constanta in April; a tie which also saw the world No.7 reduced to tears by a rant at her by home captain Ilie Nastase and a volatile crowd.
But more than that it was a triumph for the calm approach which has been a feature of her run at the tournament and rise to world No.7 from nowhere in two years.
It was a high-quality, hard-hitting encounter that could have gone either way. But Konta’s game plan to stay on the front foot and be aggressive paid off against a player who would have risen to world No.1 with the victory.
Konta, 26, said: “I was very clear on what I was trying to achieve out there. Regardless of whether it was going my way or not. I felt really stuck to my true self. Create as many as possible. She wasn’t going to give me much for free. I had to be the one out there creating my own chances. I felt I did that. Feel fortunate that I took a few of them.”
Konta admitted she felt “goose-bumps” as the “incredible” support helped drive her towards the last four. Towards achieving one of her major dreams.
She said: “I’ve dreamed of success in every slam. I think it makes it more special because it is home. I do get that home support, which I don’t get anywhere else. In that sense, I guess it makes it that much sweeter.
“But more importantly actually, I feel very, very happy and very excited for the battles that I’ve got to have so far in these Championships. I’ve been involved in some pretty great matches, actually both of them were on Centre Court, the more epic ones.
“In that sense, in the way I feel my opponents have pushed me, and I in turn them, and to create such a, I guess, sporting excitement for the crowd, that makes it I think very special.”
But the victory was completed in bizarre fashion. There was a female scream from the crowd as Konta returned a deep Halep shot and the Romanian stopped playing, dumped the ball into the net, stood there for a moment and then walked up to shake hands with her conqueror.
Konta said: “I heard a scream, I think it was off my side of the court, towards the left. But I think the crowd, there were some over enthusiastic moments, which happens I think with every match where it comes to a tense moment.
“It’s a part of sport, the crowd getting excited and getting sometimes a little too involved. But, again, I was just playing the next ball.
“I think we experienced it a couple of times in the match. All of us players have experienced that throughout our careers. But, yeah, then I wasn’t too sure. Then, yeah, I kind of followed lead of what was happening.
As the rain beat down on the Centre Court roof, Konta went about her business. She got off to a stuttering start as Halep broke her serve early and the Romanian stretched her advantage to 4-1. Yet the Brit kept her chin up as she hammered her way back.
Konta knew she was in it once her accurate and powerful serves got their rewards. And so it proved as she broke back in the seventh game and levelled the set. The consistency of her first serve was the key to that comeback – she finished the set having got her first serve 93 per cent of the time. Legend John McEnroe described it as “an incredible serving exhibition”.
Halep might not have had the power and accuracy but her ability to retrieve was impressive. It was like Konta was hitting a brick wall on each return. The pair slugged it out to the tie-break with Halep squealing on each of her returns while Konta’s cheeks went red from the sheer physical effort. But the Romanian played a superb breaker and the world No.7 trailed.
Konta held two break points for a 2-0 lead in the second set. And it was Halep’s ability to retrieve that got her out of the hole to hold. The Brit, her aggressive shot-making way up on her opponent, held for 2-1. Konta suffered her first double fault in the fifth game but ploughed on to get her nose back in front in the set.
There was little to chose between the combatants until Konta held two more break points at 4-3. The crowd roared the home girl on, but Halep dug in to hold.
Konta maintained her outward calm while, as McEnroe suggested she was “freaking out inside”, to force Halep to serve to save the set. The crowd sensed blood as Konta twice got to within two points of levelling the match. Halep, although outwardly self-critical, managed to keep it together to hold.
But Konta forced her opponent to serve for the set a second time. And forcing her to pull out exceptional shots to do so, like a running forehand into the corner after a powerful return by the Brit. The Romanian succeeded in taking the match into a second successive tie-break.
Halep took an early break in the breaker but Konta roared back to make it 3-3. The tension was racking up. Konta decided it was all or nothing. Turned into a female Braveheart. She went for her shots even more and it paid off.
The quality of the tennis was undeniable – another great advert for the women’s game – but you could sense Halep was blinking. She looked over to her coach Darren Cahill, seemingly for re-assurance. Were her walls coming down?
They certainly were as Konta forced a set point with a driven forehand before levelling the match with a ferocious double-backhand cross court that would have been good for any player.
Konta took a lengthy timeout and the crowd was subdued for the opening couple of points of the decider.
The Brit secured a marathon hold after Halep had won the first game of the decider before breaking the Romanian and moving on to victory.
Halep, who lost in the French Open final and made minimal errors, said: “I think was a great tennis. Both of us played a good level. I was very close, again. In the tiebreak maybe I could serve better and stronger a little bit.
“Then in the third set, the serve game that I lost was a little bit tough to still believe that I can break her because she was serving pretty well. I think everything was okay. Many positives from this match. And she played really well, so she deserves to win.”
Wade said: “The longer it went on the more impressed I got by the match. A stunning performance. The pressure was relentless that Konta kept applying. It was brilliant. She never wavered. I was so happy for her. I know how much pressure there is.”